Neurophysiological correlates of children's processing of interparental conflict cues

Alice C. Schermerhorn, John E. Bates, Aina Puce, Dennis L. Molfese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This study builds on the literature on child exposure to marital conflict by testing whether motherreported marital conflict exposure predicts a child's P3 event-related potential (ERP) components generated in response to viewing quasi-marital conflict photos. We collected ERP data from 23 children (9-11 years of age) while presenting photos of actors pretending to be a couple depicting interpersonal anger, happiness, and neutrality. To elicit the P3 ERP, stimuli were presented using an oddball paradigm, with angry and happy photos presented on 20% of trials each and neutral photos presented on the remaining 60% of trials. Angry photos were the target in 1 block, and happy photos were the target in the other block. In the angry block, children from high-conflict homes had shorter reaction times (RTs) on happy trials than on neutral trials, and children from low-conflict homes had shorter RTs on angry trials than on happy trials. Also within the angry block, children generated larger P3s on angry trials than on happy trials, regardless of exposure to conflict. Further, children from high-conflict homes generated larger P3s on angry trials and on happy trials compared with neutral trials, but children from low-conflict homes did not. Results are discussed in terms of implications for children's processing of displays of interpersonal emotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-527
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Children
  • Event-related potential (ERP)
  • Interparental conflict
  • Oddball paradigm
  • P3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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